Since my library bought a copy, The Diviners hasn’t spent much time on the shelves. Over the Thanksgiving holiday*, I took the plunge and read it to find out what the fuss was about. I discovered a book that shouldn’t have worked and, yet, strangely, I was hooked for nearly 600 pages.
Libba Bray’s The Diviners is a scattered book and it does sag a bit under the weight of its role as the opening book in a series with a complicated mythology. Bray introduces you to dozens of characters, plunges you into the middle of swinging 1920s New York, and sets her characters against a horrific villain, a shadowy government conspiracy, and more. It’s a lot to keep track of.
The bulk of (the already bulky) The Diviners centers on Evie O’Neill, a transplanted flapper who is sent to New York to live with her uncle after accusing the local town playboy of getting a maid in the family way. Her uncle runs a museum of the occult and has little time for the jive-talking and gin-swilling Evie. She was a little hard on me, too, as a character, until she starts to grow beyond her persona as a jazz baby. (My hat is off to Bray for her perfect depiction of Jazz Age dialect and slang. Truly, she does a brilliant job.)
As Evie settles into New York life, something is hunting people across the city and murdering them in bizarre ways. The police call Evie’s uncle Will in to investigate, as he is an expert in the paranormal. Evie invites herself along to the first crime scene. While there, trying to keep her stomach under control, she touches the victim’s shoe and sees a bit of what happened before the girl was killed. This is Evie’s secret. Like many of the myriad characters in this book, she’s a Diviner—someone who has paranormal abilities. Evie’s been hiding her talent all her life and when Will believes her, she dives into the case of Naughty Jack with as much verve as she used to dedicate to finding the latest hot club.
Naughty Jack is the major villain for most of the book, though there are hints that there are more insidious bad guys out there that the young Diviners will have to watch out for. By the end of The Diviners, it’s clear that Evie, Memphis, Theta, and all the younger gifted characters have just arrived in the middle of a war that’s been going on for a long time.
The Diviners juggles all this fairly well. Bray made an interesting choice to throw all the characters and plots into one big book, rather than writing a series of linked books. In that sense, The Diviners reads like a mini-series that’s trying to keep all the characters on the same chronology. There are sections and characters that feel secondary (or even tertiary) as you read about Evie, Will, and Jericho et al. chasing after Naughty Jack. You have to trust that Bray will take all the loose ends from The Diviners and tie them up in future volumes.
* It wasn’t much of a holiday for me. I was moving to a new house and then I got the worst head cold from my family. This always happens when I visit for the holidays. I’m asking my mom for a hazmat suit for my Christmas visit.